Have you ever felt that you need to recognize that something important for your happiness has gone missing before your eyes, and that you must learn to grieve for that loss before you can reenter life as a wiser person? That’s what I am trying to work on these days. Surprisingly, this time it’s not a personal loss that has invoked this awareness in me. It’s the danger in which our planet itself is floundering, like a ship swamped by the awakening of the Kraken in the depths.
I didn’t anticipate, until it became starkly visible for all to see, that seasonal weather patterns would be one of the manifestations this catastrophe would take.
At Thanksgiving and Christmas, our surviving family members, who all live in town, try to get together. But none of us would dream of braving the highway gridlock and ice storms sweeping semis and cars into tangled piles of metal, just to spend some particular day together. I watched a woman being interviewed in an airport who was spending the entire holiday weekend stuck there, as winds carrying snow and chaos swept across the runways. And I wondered if her cheerful demeanor, talking with the interviewer, was due more to being seen by millions on primetime TV than acceptance that her plans for the holidays were being swept away.
These days, the ancient spirals of time—in which seasons reliably followed and prepared for each other—are being infiltrated by longer cycles begun millions and billions of years ago; long before the sacred balance among land, air, water and living systems were being plowed beneath the waves of rising seas. Hurricanes and tornadoes are now showing up on the West coast, and even in the Gulf of Mexico they no longer stay within the boundaries of what was called “the hurricane season”. I remember a few years ago, it was warmer one week in Alaska than here in Albuquerque; and it is no longer unusual for hail to fall in July or crocuses to peek through dormant lawns in January.
Mainstream news has finally begun to mention global warming and, at rare moments, to attribute this devastation of the natural world to human behavior. Recognizing and acknowledging this connection–between human actions and the infinitely intricate connections that manifests as life on this planet–feels like an important first step.
But when we acknowledge human responsibility for the ending of life as we know it, our courage can falter. We know that the only right thing to do is for us to join with those who are working toward a sustainable future; but seeing that the damage already inflicted is irrevocable can sap our will and energy. We see that it is too late to return the countless cubic miles of fresh water that have already disappeared from ancient glaciers created hundreds of thousands of years ago; we see that it is no longer possible within our lifetimes to restore the fertility of the chemical-saturated soil of corporate factory farms; we see that it is too late, in the lifetime of anyone alive today, to clean the cesspools that were once free-flowing streams of sparkling water; nor can we just open a window and blow away the smog that chokes many cities.
Even if human societies were to be completely transformed by a tide of appreciation for the biodiversity of the planetary system on which life depends, human abuse of our planet has already deeply maimed Mother Earth in body and spirit. And, while this transformation has begun in important ways, it has not yet infiltrated the largest corporations and the legislatures that remain on their payrolls.
The dominant cycles we are now witnessing are not the ancient forces of gestation, growth, harvest and propagation. We are living in the consequences of the systematic abuse of our planet’s resources, which has created a backlash that competes with mass shootings for the evening’s breaking news.
What kind of seasonal milestone do we envision when we hear that humanity has ushered in a sixth great extinction, in which more species have vanished from the face of the earth than in the cataclysm that ended the reign of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago? How do we respond when we recognize that the epochal events that we are living through are due to the practices of the Industrial Complex and its extraction of resources that includes no consideration for how they came to be available? Under the banner of the illusion that economic growth is necessary for individuals to be personally fulfilled, “Business as Usual” continues to rule much of our world’s economies. In the wake of a false equivalence between accelerating consumption and personal happiness, fish stocks have been harvested past the point where their species can survive in their natural habitat; starving polar bears are coming into towns because the ice pack on which they used to hunt seals remains open water; bees are increasingly rare visitors to flowering bushes in suburban yards; while countless insects and oxygen-producing ocean plankton, as well as forest dwellers and large mammals, cannot find the habitats in which they have evolved. As temperatures rise, pollution and desecration of the ancient, life-giving balances among water, air, land and sunlight are collapsing in one catastrophe after another.
Unless, as a species, we can awaken to the dying of a world that has taken billions of years to come into being; unless we can acknowledge our culpability in this tragedy and can face our grief for the unspeakable losses in the living system in which humanity is but one voice: we will soon be standing in front of the blades of a threshing machine that has already destroyed countless of our fellow beings.
The question I am asking myself and which I haven’t yet been able to answer with a full heart, is: can I learn to grieve for this world and all its suffering beings enough to let myself truly see what is happening and to deeply feel the sadness of this loss?
Because I have experienced the loss of a loved one, I have learned that accepting what can no longer be changed is the only way that life can open again to a future that includes the blessings of hope. Now, I am asking myself whether I can learn to care for the irreversible damage that has been inflicted on the life systems of our planet and to then challenge my feeling that I am helpless to do anything about such global issues? Can I grieve for our world, which has evolved over millions of years to produce the breathable air exhaled by the great forests, the life-sustaining cycles of water in streams, rivers, oceans and clouds that bring rain to mountains and fertile fields, so that sunlight can nurture thirsty seeds as they awaken to their new life?
As I make my way on this Earth with gratitude for a body that can still walk, breathe, drink, and raise appreciative eyes to another dawn, I aspire to join with others in honoring and protecting what still remains of this beautiful, threatened world.
The life I have known, which has given me so much, depends on it.